In October 2009, when asked about the constitutionality of “Obamacare,” then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded, “Are you serious? Are you serious?”
Yes, Ms. Pelosi, it was serious then, and it’s even more serious now.
What’s not surprising was her reaction. She probably regrets saying what she did, especially after she has had to endure YouTube clip after YouTube clip, and commercial after commercial, showing her memorable little phrase over and over…ad nauseum. The Tea Party sure made her sorry in the 2010 midterm election.
But now it’s time to revisit that phrase, and, more generally, the idea behind it, that the United States Constitution is not a topic for serious discussion, that if you bring it up you’re probably just a “God and guns” clinger, to borrow a phrase from President Obama. It’s time to change that notion.
Now, there’s at least 150 years of history behind Pelosi’s “question” about the seriousness of the Constitution. Intellectually, it comes out the German philosopher Hegel – what’s known as historicism, and what we know as relativism. In American politics, it begins with John C. Calhoun. It gets serious, and very relevant, with the rise of the Progressive era in American politics in the 20th century - FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. And that legacy carries forward to Pelosi, Obama, and the modern liberal agenda.
Take heart: there has always been, and still is, a principled, conservative response that carries on the legacy of America’s Founding Fathers and the principles set forth in our most sacred founding documents. Abraham Lincoln completed the work of the Founders, ridding the nation of the human slavery that, for prudential reasons, America’s Founders found themselves forced to accept. Professor Harry Jaffa, arguably the greatest expositor of Lincoln’s legacy, opens the second chapter of his second great work on Lincoln (“A New Birth of Freedom) by quoting the historian Carl Becker, who once wrote that “To ask whether the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence is true or false is essentially a meaningless question.” Meaningless? Was he serious? Was he serious?
Well he was. So was Jaffa’s response, and, so, today, is the response of groups like the Tea Party. One important difference – this is not merely an academic debate. This is a new groundswell of the only sure repository of constitutional authority and sovereignty – the People. But “We the People” must understand that there are serious and important things to know before charging ahead in defense of liberty. We must first understand America’s founding and its principles, why they are true, and therefore why they are worth defending and preserving.